Better off in California?
It was only the third day with my new camera. As I was looking for interesting subjects to photograph, an elderly crossing guard approached and then turned to head for the other side of Front Street near the corner where I stood. As he crossed to the other side of Front Street in downtown Buchanan, he briefly turned his head and called out in a raspy voice.
"Their ain't nothing worth photographing in this town any more."
I answered the crossing guard with a chuckle as I focused my camera on an adjacent building facade, "Oh, you'd be surprised what folks might be interested in these days."
He turned his head toward me again while cupping his mouth so he could be heard over the rumble of a passing truck, "You'd be better off in California! That's where there'd be somethin' to photograph."
For an instant I thought he saw the California licenses plate on my car, but then I realized that weeks ago those plates had been replaced with my brand spanking new Michigan plate. How did he know? Hmmmm.
Then with a shrug I continued snapping the more interesting aspects of my new home town on that brisk late winter day.
Buchanan, Michigan, the lively but bedraggled small town in Southwest Michigan is the place where I find myself these days. Somewhere between the historic Motown of Detroit and the mobsters of Chicago, in a geographic location that only receives 30% of the average annual sunlight compared to the lower 48. After uprooting from 2,400 miles away, I've come to this somewhat unlikely location to continue my career as a fledgling author and to rekindle my career as a photographer—Yes, a photographer, after moving far away from the picturesque landscapes of Northern California,
I could not help but to laugh out loud at what the crossing guard had yelled out, and at the odd synchronicity from which his proclamation came. He was right of course. What landscape/ex-real estate photographer would not want to talk their prime shots along the majestic shores of the Pacific, among the mighty redwoods, the towering granite cliffs of the Yosemite Valley or in the colorful melting pot of San Fransisco? All things considered, my approach to that question is not unlike a student who attempts to answer a question put forth by a good philosophy teacher. As if the crossing guard were a Zen master that had just given a paradoxical riddle (koan) to his student. Hence, the only real way to solve such a question is to become the answer itself.
On the face of it, my reason for taking up residence in Michigan was out of a decades-long homesickness, coupled with the refusal to move back into the tornado alley of my youth, i.e. the wiles of north-eastern Kansas.
Buchanan is also the home town of my editor Sarah Matalas, who I worked with for many months and was kind enough to give me some prime insights of her hometown; who also provided great assistance in my relocation here.
But of course, there's a little more to the story.
Each time I walk out my front door to chat with a neighbor or to meet someone new, a little more of the story—my own story—is revealed to me. For this ex-real estate photographer, who like many others in that particular profession, are little more than a frustrated photojournalist at heart, the friendly farm-town nature of this Southwest Michigan community poses an invitation. An invitation to make connections and to create the best of what I have to offer using all of the skills honed over decades of commercial photography and graphic art as I worked as a contractor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet my own personal circle will not be complete until this new venture is concluded. And yes, I do realize that this work will never be finished.
So I suppose it's true - the old adage about the journey, not the destination, is what counts. However, I believe this particular journey will be far different. As an entrepreneur and business owner I've hung my independent shingle over the past 30+ years. Those years were for the most part financially successful and more importantly, intense learning experiences. This time, I will share the journey – presenting highlights and new discoveries along the way. New works from this endeavor will be announced here, as well as all the twists and turns it took to deliver the highlights as well as the resulting captured light to the public. Overall, I think you may find that my methods are anything but conventional.
You are of course encouraged to join our True Midwest effort at least as a reader and observer. Soon we will be inviting other photographers and photojournalists to participate in this adventure as contributors. For now, I will add one more saying that also seems to apply in my case–I give you this from a Canadian-born clergyman who became a famed author after retiring, near the turn of the last century:
"Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid."
-- Basil King